Right now there’s a lot of clamor over the changes to the Disney Dining Plan for 2011. The one change that has everyone talking the most has to be the changes to Le Cellier. In case you missed it, starting in March of 2011 a Dinner at Le Cellier will cost 2 table service credits – Lunch will remain 1 table service credit. You may recall that it was just a few years ago that this same restaurant was changed from 2 credits to 1 credit.
Well I’m here to tell you that the world did not end before when it was 2 credits and it’s not going to end now. In the end, Le Cellier is back to what it was before an overpriced, but good steakhouse. Yes pretzel bread rocks, but the actual pretzels over in the Germany Pavilion are better. Cheddar Cheese soup is yummy from what I remember before my bacon eating days came to an end. And then there’s that strip steak, a.k.a. “The Scopa Special”, a delectable morsel that can’t be matched anywhere on property… wrong!
But before I get into that I want to tell you about a little restaurant. The restaurant that almost wasn’t. So often I have friends say that Disney is constantly taking so much away from guests these past several years, but seldom do I hear them talk about the things that Disney has done for guests. And I can think of one clear case where they did it because the guests practically demanded that they do.
Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa had it’s grand opening celebration during the DVC Member Homecoming in May of 2004. There was a lot of fanfare, fireworks, Jodi Benson singing, etc. While there was counter service to be found in the Artist’s Palette, there was something missing – table service dining was nowhere to be found at the resort.
This caused quite an uproar. The resort received numerous complaints about this both in person and in visitor satisfaction surveys. DVC members complained. And when push came to shove, Jim Lewis announced on the 2005 DVC Member Cruise that table service dining would be coming to Saratoga Springs as the Turf Club Bar and Grill.
It would play off the horse racing motif of the resort, and be built on the rear side of the resorts main building between Artist’s Palette and the patio. This was an ambitious project, as at the time, they weren’t just adding in a restaurant, but an entire full service kitchen as well to support that restaurant as one had not been there prior. Construction went at a furious pace, and in July of 2007 the restaurant opened.
At this time, my wife, Cheryl, and I were already Florida residents for just over 2 years, and we were excited. So we made a day of it, and headed to the restaurant on it’s first day of being opened to the public to have lunch. With little fanfare we were asked if we wanted to seat inside or outside, it was a gorgeous day so we chose outside – though about to rain, you know a typical Orlando summer day. After being seated we learned that we were the very first guests to dine on the patio.
And we’ve come to love this restaurant over the years. It’s a true hidden gem of Walt Disney World. It’s seldom crowded or overbooked. I’ve never had a case where I couldn’t get a reservation here, or just walk up. Unlike Le Cellier where we all fight for a meal there. The food is consistently good, and the Chefs have always done an excellent job catering to Cheryl’s special dining needs.
For my very first meal there I had the Classic Reuben Sandwich, and Cheryl had the Penne Pasta with Vegetables (no longer on the menu). To me that Reuben was among the best I’ve ever had: crispy, soft, juicy, bitter, and salty all at once. Everything a Reuben should be. These days I no longer mix milk and meat for religious reasons, but if I did, this is a sandwich I’d have.
So what about the Steak? Well, the Turf Club has a New York Strip Steak on their menu that is equally as good as the one you’ll find at Le Cellier. While it can be served to you any way you like, the recommended methods are either topped with blue cheese, portobello mushrooms, and a balsamic port glaze or topped with crab meat and grain mustard. For me just give me the port glaze and keep the rest off. Medium, in case you were wondering.
All that aside though, let me tell you about the meal I keep coming back for. For starters the bread. Okay, it’s a simple crusted wheat loaf with some oats, but what I truly love is the pinkish rock salt they sprinkle on top of the butter. I’d never had this before I had it at Turf Club, but it’s such a great flavor with that bread. Yummy, especially on those cold days we sometimes get down here in Florida – you know, the ones below 70 degrees (thin blood, sorry).
While munching my bread I’ll order my drink. And few non-alcoholic beverages are better on WDW property than the Turf Club’s Blackberry Lemonade. Thirst quenching, tart, tangy, and sweet – just don’t drink too many, there are a lot of calories in that glass. And with such a great drink, you need a truly great appetizer, and that can be found in the Onion Rings with Dips. Big and crunchy, these are sure to please as is or covered in one of the dips.
And then there’s the entree. Now I know there’s always a lot of discussion among the Disney fan community as to what the best burger on property is. Two things always come up right? Pecos Bill’s and Beaches & Cream. And I’ll admit, both of these are great burgers, and you won’t see me turning either down. But to me they both have drawbacks, one, despite being Angus beef, is a frozen pre-made patty, and the other is fried. I prefer a grilled steakhouse style burger, and that’s what I get with the Turf Club’s Angus Chuck Burger. Juicy and lean this burger is always a pleaser, and it comes with a plate of dressings arranged in a familiar pattern.
As a side, I’d skip the fries. Not that they’re bad, but the Turf Club has something much better than mere french fries to have alongside your burger. Thick, crispy, not greasy potato chips – tiny packages of carb loaded goodness. This is the one item that Disney had to feature at their Saratoga Springs resort, because the potato chip was invented in the real Saratoga Springs. To not have it would have been a travesty of epic proportions. Even if you’re not getting the burger order a plate of these for the table, just to try.
Once upon a time the Turf Club used to have a chocolate lava cake dessert, and I’d have recommended it, but it was a logistical nightmare for the restaurant as it took 20 minutes to prepare, and generally guests don’t like to make decisions about desert mid-meal. Off the current menu, I’d personally go for the Apple Pie. However, like most Disney restaurants, if there’s something not on the menu that you want they’ll make it for you. Gluten and dairy free brownie sundae anyone?
If you’re looking for a restaurant with a comfortable, warm, atmosphere that has a fantastic serene view – especially one where this time next year you’ll still be able to get a New York Strip Steak for 1 table service credit on the Dining Plan, I can only say head to the Turf Club, you won’t be disappointed.
What about you? Have you been to Turf Club? How was it? What did you have? If not, are you planning to go? Where else do you like to get a steak at WDW? Thanks for enjoying this meal with me. Yum!
This post is featured in Disney Food Post Round-Up: August 15, 2010